Sunday, January 11, 2009

a partridge in a pear tree

This Christmas was a special one with my family in Austin. It has been a stressful past month but cooking and food are constants in my life that keep me motivated, engaged and creative.

Christmas Eve I raced from work in Fort Worth to my parents house in Austin for our annual family Christmas Eve party. Unable to help with dinner, my mom took a simple approach and served rustic food; buffet style.

In her cherry red boullibase pot, she served velvety corn chowder with white cheddar and cilantro. Homemade tamales were served with salsa verde and a moist, succulent and smoky roast turkey was served with fresh rolls and fig chutney. The dessert table and decor was gorgeous- homemade sugar cookies, rich coconut cake and a vanilla spice cake were all nestled together resembling a whimsical, winter wonderland.

Not to brag (ok, a little), but I was spoiled silly Christmas day. For my culinary-related goodies, I was given:

Blue Le Crueset Dutch oven, teal square baking dishes and a white skillet
Basil-infused extra virgin olive oil
The most delicious balsamic I've ever tasted

Fleur de sel with rosemary and lavender
Funky multi-colored salad utensils
Stainless appetizer flatware
White, square serving dishes
Keurig one-cup coffee maker (ingenious! makes teas and cocoa as well)
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics Cookbook
A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis
The Food of Thailand cookbook (gorgeous photographs)

Wine glasses (stemless for red, with stems for white)

Christmas Day, after opening gifts with Mom and Dad, we headed out to my grandmothers house for a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, pigs in a blanket, egg casserole, sausage, bacon, grits, cinnamon rolls, orange banana punch and coffee...I look forward to this breakfast every year.

The next day, I was cooking for my Dad's side of the family Christmas dinner. My morning started with breakfast tacos from the infamous Taco Shack and scouring the aisles at Central Market. Happy with my purchases, I headed back to start cooking.

The menu for 18 was:

Spiced glazed cashews, walnuts and pumpkin seeds
I started off by melting 1/2 stick butter in a large skillet. Toss nuts to combine (any assortment would be great, we already had this combo). I then added 1/2 cup honey, several shakes of cayenne, 4 tsp of minced rosemary and salt to taste. Saute until nuts are toasted and all ingredients are combined.

Cheese platter with Brie, Gouda, Stilton, honeycomb with rosemary lavender fleur de sel, berries, apples, pears and assorted crackers

Grapefruit and blood orange salad with a star anise syrup (December Gourmet)
I supremed an equal number of grapefruits and blood oranges and squeezed the juice from the leftover pulp. Meanwhile, I made a simple syrup with equal parts water, granulated sugar and 6 star anise cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer to thicken. Set aside to cool then drizzle over citrus segments.


Fennel and avocado salad with a citrus lime vinaigrette
First I made the vinaigrette with the juice of two limes, one lemon and one orange. Add the zest of 1 lime, one lemon and 1/2 orange. Pulse in the blender with two garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, honey, salt and pepper. When combined, slowly add olive oil to emulsify and finish vinaigrette. Serve with shaved fennel, sliced avocado and endive spears.

Fresh corn succotash with a jalapeno butter
Saute fresh corn, chopped onions, minced garlic, chopped bell peppers (I used orange, yellow and red), and minced jalapeno with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper. Finish with chopped parsley and/or cilantro.

Next, make the compound butter. Take two sticks of room temperature, unsalted butter and combine with a touch of olive oil, minced jalapeno, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into plastic wrap and form into a cylinder shape. Freeze to harden then slice into individual pats. Serve over succotash.

Grilled surf and turf with a chimichurri
We chose New York strips and 21-25 shrimp. I marinated the steak with a dry rub of paprika, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. The shrimp was marinated with olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Grill steak, shrimp, lime halves brushed with olive oil and red onions brushed with olive oil until desired doneness is achieved.

I also made a recent trip to Dallas for a friends birthday. The occasion called for rooming at Zaza and sushi and cocktails at Nobu. Amongst the table of girls (already full of sake) we split the spicy rock shrimp, yellowtail and jalapeno sashimi, spicy pequillo peppers, spicy tuna rolls, miso marinated cod and enoki mushroom, Japanese pumpkin and avocado tempura.

Our (hungover) breakfast the next morning was popovers with strawberry butter and the Austin tacos with a chipotle cream sauce at Dream Cafe.

Once back in Fort Worth, I had dinner at Winslow's Wine Cafe. To begin, my mom and I shared the dungeness crab cakes with a garlic aioli and a blueberry and blackberry salsa similar to a pico de gallo. I liked the crab cakes and the salsa was great...you could tell the crab cakes weren't pre-frozen and the crab wasn't fishy tasting.

Next, we split the spinach salad with apples, pecans, goat cheese and an apple cider vinaigrette- it was perfect. The dressing wasn't overwhelming nor was the salad overdressed. Finally, we split the Jim Bowie pizza with chicken, barbecue sauce and fresh jalapenos. The crust was nice and the flavors were good but there was entirely too much barbecue sauce.

The next day we headed to Northpark and lunched at the Mermaid Bar in Neimans. I ordered the soup of the day (chicken and white bean) which was nice and surprisingly light. Next, I ordered the Love salad with chicken, avocado, artichoke and tomatoes with a lemon oregano vinaigrette. The boiled chicken completely lacked flavor- not worth $11 . My mom ordered a slice of the coconut cake and I had to sneak a bite (even though I'm not a huge coconut fan). Good idea on my part...it was heavenly.

That evening, we dined at Brix Wine Bar for a late dinner. Accustomed to the Brix menu, I hadn't returned because the food was simply mediocre. My visit back changed my mind. The wine list was more extensive and the menu was revised.

My mom and roommate Megan ordered a "make your own" pizza and chose eggplant, onions, jalapenos and roasted red peppers. A seemingly bizarre combination, it was perfect. The vegetables were cooked perfectly and you could taste all elements of the pizza in a delicious cohesion while the jalapenos added a mellow heat.

I ordered the vegetable plate and added grilled chicken. The plate came with grilled eggplant, romaine hearts, zucchini, tomato and chicken all beneath a drizzle of sweet balsamic and crumbles of salty feta. Despite the eggplant being a bit overcooked, the dish was so incredibly simple and flavorful...I'm back to being a Brix believer.

Last night, friends and I cooked dinner. After discovering we were stripped dry of salt (how does that happen?!), dinner was still delicious.

Spinach salad with orange, toasted hazelnuts, Camembert and a simple lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with red pepper flakes

(The salad turned out fine, but the Camembert was a bit rich with the buttery hazelnuts)

Pan seared halibut with lemon, pepper and white wine
Rosemary tomato polenta
Sauteed artichoke hearts and onions

Great, light dinner for all those trying to lose the LBS for the new year!

1 comment:

Catherine said...

Your meal was YUMMY! Thank you so much! Send me the recipes - especially for the nuts.